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Occupying academic space – and a return of the useless university
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Technology, Department of Engineering Sciences, Industrial Engineering & Management.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Technology, Department of Engineering Sciences, Industrial Engineering & Management.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Technology, Department of Engineering Sciences, Industrial Engineering & Management.
2014 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Over the last decades, the conviction that the university needs to become more entrepreneurial, and learn to perform functions traditionally ascribed to the industrial sphere, has become somewhat of a commonplace. One might even claim that Clark’s notion of the ‘entrepreneurial university’ (1998) has taken on a hegemonic role in debates on innovation and technology transfer – one that is manifested through a broad range of programs and practices intended to enhance and disseminate the value creating activities taking place within the academic realm (see also Shattock, 2005; Williams et al., 2003). While this increasing emphasis on the economic usefulness of universities clearly makes out a central component in the neo-liberal movement that has swept Western capitalist societies over the past 30 years or so, it also makes out the point of departure and the object of analysis of this paper. This insofar as the present research project is conducted from a place within the university that is a direct effect of its ambitions to become more entrepreneurial, and this insofar as it takes an entrepreneurial venture lodged within the university as its starting point for contemplating and conceiving contemporary economic activities at the borderlands of academic and industrial realms.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is arguably one of the most pressing challenges of our time, with a lot of the renewable energy technologies envisioned by the European Strategic Energy Technology plan for 2011 still being under development, and yet having to prove themselves as technologically reliable and commercially viable alternatives. Ocean wave energy is one such technology, which is expected to play a pivotal role in this transition, with a forecasted electricity production potential of 150 to 240 TWh annually over the coming 15 year period – or approximately one per cent of the projected electricity con- sumption in Europe during the same period. The technologies developed and designed for wave energy conversion are still, however, in their infancy, with the most advanced systems iterating between prototyping and demonstration. So, moreover, is the market, which is still to be convinced of the technological reliability and economic viability of this kind of renewable energy system. Great challenges thus remain in order to reach the EU targets.

Judging by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7) on Co- operation efforts within the renewable energy sector, the policy makers at EU level expect university research to operate as a central node in such developments – to be both a central driver in the pursuit of the EU targets, and an administrative force, organising collaborative research, development, demonstration and diffusion efforts associated with the renewable technology (see FP7: Cooperation Work Programme: Energy – C(2011)5068). EU policy does, in other words, both presuppose and prompt the existence of the entrepreneurial university, expecting it to play a key role in ramping up the demonstration, further develop- ment and production of renewable technologies such as ocean wave energy conversion.

Much in line with national as well as European innovation policy, one potential system for renewable energy production off shore is currently being developed at Uppsala University, in collaboration with a spinoff company, a network of suppliers, as well as a utility company. After a decade of research and development – including numerous iterations of inventive engineering solutions, several stages of prototype testing, legal processes, political promotion, financial privation, and commercial initiatives to establish partnerships – this development project is currently moving into large scale pilot testing, with the technology being deployed in the world’s first pilot farm for wave energy. Begun in the late autumn 2013, this implementation is planned to materialise over a five year period.

On the face of it, this venture may well seem like a poster child for the innovating, entrepreneurial university, whose emergence Clark chronicled in 1998, and which since has grown into an ideal model for politicians, top administrators at universities, and funding bodies alike. A closer look at these attempts to involve the university in a process of technological innovation raises, however, a number of questions concerning how attempts to organise innovation at the borderlands of academic and commercial domains may in fact alter that institution which serves as a condition for this collaboration. Most fundamentally, it raises the question of how academic practices take on particular performative dimensions as a consequence of their involvement in an innovation project that gradually, and in an iterative manner, moves from basic research, development and assessment of singular prototypes, to industrial assembly and deployment of entire farms of wave energy converters – an innovation project that extends the scientific laboratory beyond the traditional academic confines of prototyping, into realms of large-scale demonstration, which is carried out in commercial collaborations.

With respect to such performative effects, the paper pays particular attention to a double movement, whereby 1) a particular form of being, on the one hand, gets incorporated into the realm of the university – an entrepreneurial being who has to adapt to both internal and external market spaces, where very different kinds of investments are being valued and exchanged; an entrepreneurial being engaged in endless competitive pursuits, driven by a range of different calculative and instrumental logics and interests; and 2) supplementing that, tugging in the opposite direction, a wasteful, excessive and non-useful outgrowth is creating a space of creative freedom at the peripheral borders of the entrepreneurial activities (cf. Styhre, 2013).

To theorize this movement, emerging in the wake of the foreign, neo-liberal (fantasy) object gushing into and occupying the academic realm, the paper turns to Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of the major and the minor (1972/1986), or molar and molecular (1973/1980), in an attempt to extend and move beyond theoretical discussions of the organizing effects of objects located in shared spaces, so called boundary objects (see, e.g., Star & Greisemer, 1989; Star, 2010). 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
entrepreneurial university, academia, research, space, occupation, value creation
National Category
Other Social Sciences Engineering and Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-265445OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-265445DiVA: diva2:865692
Latin American and European Meeting on Organisation Studies
Available from: 2015-10-29 Created: 2015-10-29 Last updated: 2016-04-22

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